2013 – A Year In Review

fireworksIt’s totally cliché, but where the hell has this year gone? With today being the very last day of 2013 I figured I’d do a quick “Year in Review” post to talk about my progress with reading challenges and also to discuss my favorite books of the year!

Quick rundown on how I did with my reading challenges: I successfully read 120 books this year. In fact, as of the time of writing this post I am at 199 books for the year! (WOOT!) You can see all the books I’ve read with links to their reviews here. Now, a bit of bad news. I utterly failed (for the second year in a row) the audio book challenge. I didn’t listen to 1 audio book this year (read: pathetic.) I also didn’t do so great with the Book to Movie challenge either, with only 2 out of 12 read. Now, to the good news: I completed 78% of the Color Coded Challenge, or 7 out of 9 reads. I actually had a blast doing this challenge. You don’t realize how many books use colors in their titles until you do a challenge like this! Additionally, I unsurprisingly completed the Historical Fiction Challenge as well as the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary challenge with no trouble at all.

And now for the difficult part: Picking my favorite reads of 2013.

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley (look for my review next week!!!)
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers/Making It Last by Ruthie Knox
  5. Beauty and the Billionaire by Jessica Clare
  6. Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
  7. Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander/Easy by Tammara Webber
  8. Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
  9. Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost
  10. The Secret of Ella and Micha/The Forever of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen

Having read almost 200 books this year, choosing 10 (really 12) of my favorites almost killed me. So, in the effort of easing my conscience I’m giving you some of my runners-up (in no particular order)!

  1. Pride, Prejudice, and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant
  2. The Edelstein Trilogie by Kersin Gier (Book one, two, & three)
  3. The Westfield Wolves/Regency Vampyre Series by Lydia Dare
  4. Return to Longbourn by Shannon Winslow
  5. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  6. Losing It by Cora Carmack
  7. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  8. Bittersweet by Noelle Adams

This was hands down the hardest year yet to pick my favorite books. When you read almost 200 books in a year I guess that should be expected, no?

Ok, the burden is being passed to you. What did you love reading this year?!? Please let us know below. And finally, enjoy the rest of your New Year’s Day, hopefully with a great book. See you in 2014!

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Kim and Kelly’s Review of Once Burned (Night Prince #1) and Twice Tempted (Night Prince #2) by Jeaniene Frost

My bestest reading buddy Kelly, from Reading with Analysis, is back visiting the blog again today.  I hope, dear readers, that you enjoy our dueling reviews as much as we enjoy writing them.  As much as we love poking fun at the books we love to hate, we love gushing over the books we love to love more.  I got a great deal on Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost a few months ago and worked on convincing Kelly to take a chance with me on this paranormal/urban fantasy novel.  Neither of those genres are ones we typically read, let alone actively search out books which encompass these genres.  The fact that both of us truly enjoyed these books is a testament to how good they really are.  Today, we’re duel gushing about the first two books in Frost’s Night Prince trilogy.

objfBook one is Once Burned! Plot from Goodreads:

After a tragic accident scarred her body and destroyed her dreams, Leila never imagined that the worst was still to come: terrifying powers that let her channel electricity and learn a person’s darkest secrets through a single touch. Leila is doomed to a life of solitude…until creatures of the night kidnap her, forcing her to reach out with a telepathic distress call to the world’s most infamous vampire…

Vlad Tepesh inspired the greatest vampire legend of all—but whatever you do, don’t call him Dracula. Vlad’s ability to control fire makes him one of the most feared vampires in existence, but his enemies have found a new weapon against him—a beautiful mortal with powers to match his own. When Vlad and Leila meet, however, passion ignites between them, threatening to consume them both. It will take everything that they are to stop an enemy intent on bringing them down in flames.

Kim: I’ve got a bit of a thing for “damaged” characters.  When I say “damaged” I mean characters that have scars (emotional or physical).  There’s just something about a character working through all of his/her baggage that appeals to me. The idea that a character has shit to overcome just gives me the warm and fuzzies. It makes their character development feel real, as the character’s growth is tangible throughout the story. Leila is definitely such a character (Vlad too, but more on him later.) Leila has intense physical scarring from a tragic accident that’s left her with some badass powers. She has self-confidence issues (she’s always trying to cover her scars), massive amounts of family issues (she blames herself for her parent’s split/subsequent family self-destruction), and barely trusts anyone. I think her trust issues are self-made as a way to protect herself from others so her visions don’t happen. Her visions certainly take their toll on her but in a way I think she views them as a penance for all the family problems she feels are her doing.

Vlad (who I am madly in love with) is a much stronger character at first glance. We get to meet insecure Vlad in book two, so I’ll discuss that part of him later. I remember texting Kelly while reading Once Burned and saying “Vlad is the perfect balance of arrogance and sexy. Every author trying to write an arrogant man as appealing/sexy should read this book and model their man after him.” Even now I don’t think I could pinpoint what about his arrogance is different than everyone else’s. I just know it is and it works. Maybe being the oldest vampire in the world teaches you what the perfect amount of cockiness to exude is?

Kelly:  I’m with you on the characters with baggage front.  When done well, these types of characters tend to be so much more interesting than more straightforward characters, but there’s so much that can go wrong.  When I find a damaged character who is well-wrought, whose motivations and actions consistently make sense, I rejoice.  There are two such characters in this series, and both are handled extremely well. Leila’s got her scars, badass powers, and resulting loneliness, and Vlad has his centuries-long past of wars, betrayals, abandonments, misunderstandings, tortues, yada yada yada.  The consistent and believable characterization helps to sell the reader on the world-building in the story.  Vlad is the legendary Dracula (also the legendary Vlad the Impaler), and, going into it, I sort of expected my reaction to be like, “Whuuuut?” but instead I was like, “Yep… that’s Vlad the Impaler alright…” I buy it.

Kim: Totally agree. I bought everything Frost said. She had me sold and invested in the story from page 1. Not only were the characters exquisitely done, but the story was super creative and original. I’ve read several vampire novels and will admit to being bored by the usual stereotypes. I enjoy authors (like Charlaine Harris) that envision other “powers” for their vampires besides superhuman strength and speed. Frost gave them the ability to fly, freeze objects, telekinesis, etc. I liked that everyone had something special besides the normal vampire expectations.

Kelly:  Honestly, this book had me at hello.  After I read a couple of reviews, I was like, holy shit, this book fits in a Venn Diagram that includes vampires and carnival freaks, and I purchased it immediately.  I normally hate first-person narration because it’s difficult to like a character when you’re in her head all the time (no one who had to listen to my inner monologue would like me, either), but I loved it in this story.  I was totally into it from the first chapter to the end.

The writing was generally very good in this book.  The pacing is spot on: fast enough to draw you into the story and keep you there, slow enough to allow the kind of depth that makes you care about the story you’re reading.  I loved the villain of this book — he’s so villainous!  And the storyline that brings Vlad and Leila together is interesting, believable, a little bit fun, a little bit suspenseful; in short, it’s perfect.

Kim: You’re right. This book does fit into multiple categories. I think that’s one more reason why it’s so awesome.  You have this great romantic plot that builds and builds between two AWESOME characters, smoldering like Vlad’s fires, and then on top of that there is this suspenseful plot, filled with action and intrigue.  Having these two stories weave together definitely helped keep you invested and moved the story along.

Kelly:  The dialogue is great — light when it needs to be, darker when the shit is really going down.  The only thing that bothered me (and maybe it’s just me) is that I have this stupid nitpicky thing about clothing/color descriptions.  I just don’t care if that turtleneck is olive green or turquoise.  It has nothing to do with the story or the characters, so it just annoys me to have to pick through those unnecessary details… it’s distracting.  Plus, in a first-person narrative it’s particularly jarring.  I honestly never think to myself, “I’m wearing a blue sweater and charcoal-gray slacks,” so it’s weird to see a character including those details in her story.  Other readers may enjoy all those descriptions, especially readers who like to picture what they’re reading, but I just don’t.

Kim: First and foremost I have to agree with you about the dialogue. The first conversation that Vlad and Leila have (while in his head) I thought was really well written. You sensed the chemistry that could explode between these two characters, exciting you for what would happen once they got together.  I think my favorite part of the book was when Leila foresaw her and Vlad hooking up. His extreme cockiness and surety that it definitely would happen was both hilarious and hot as hell. I think the whole idea that as he gets turned on his hands and body begin bursting into flames is hot. Seeing a physical response to what you do to a man? Hmmm…sexy.

Kelly:  You know that’s right.  I also loved that the physical response goes both ways.  Vlad goes up in flames, but Leila lets off electrical charges when she’s turned on.  Together, they’re really something.

Kim: Their relationship really is something.  I think you’ll agree with me when I say that if the two of them weren’t so perfect for each other the book wouldn’t have worked/been as interesting as it was to us.

Kim’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

ttjfBook two is Twice Tempted.  Plot from Goodreads:

Leila’s psychic abilities have been failing her, and now she isn’t sure what the future holds. If that weren’t enough, her lover, Vlad, has been acting distant. Though Leila is a mere mortal, she’s also a modern woman who refuses to accept the cold shoulder treatment forever–especially from the darkly handsome vampire who still won’t admit that he loves her.

Soon circumstances send Leila back to the carnival circuit, where tragedy strikes. And when she finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who may be closer than she realizes, Leila must decide who to trust– the fiery vampire who arouses her passions like no other or the tortured knight who longs to be more than a friend? With danger stalking her every step of the way, all it takes is one wrong move to damn her for eternity.

Kelly:  I’m always nervous about sequels… What if an author approaches the sequel as a re-do of the first installment’s glory?  Like, that worked… I’ll try that again.  My official stance on sequels is that they need to have a reason for existing.  There needs to be more story about these characters that needs to be told.  Twice Tempted does an excellent job of continuing the story of these characters while telling a totally separate, new story about them.  Leila’s issues with her powers changes the dynamic in their relationship, and the new story takes off from there.

Kim: So book two gave us a different Vlad and Leila for sure. Their relationship is having some major problems that all stem from a pretty major misunderstanding.  Leila’s having bad dreams/visions about her relationship with Vlad and Vlad is beginning to act distant, hiding things from Leila.  I give Frost props for delving into the deeper/darker/unhappier side of their relationship.  When authors continually write about a couple and make everything sunshine and roses I’ll admit that it bothers me.  Sure, everyone loves a happy couple that is making it, but it’s completely unrealistic to act like there are never disagreements, fights, or misunderstandings.  The Vlad present in Twice Tempted is way vulnerable. He’s never faced someone who’s unafraid of standing up to him as well as turning down his offer of immortality.  I like that Leila keeps Vlad on his toes, and pushes him to be a more understanding person.  She forces him to be less rigid and more merciful. Their conflict moves much of Twice Tempted’s plot along.

Kelly:  My favorite thing about this book was Leila’s insistence that she really did love Vlad in an “as is” sort of way; she didn’t want to change him or gentrify him.  I mean, seriously.  He’s Vlad the Impaler… he didn’t get that nickname by baking his enemies cupcakes or decorating his house with sparkles.  His past is brutal and, actually, rather distasteful, but he isn’t dishonorable.  All of that violent excess was done to protect his people — his responsibility.  I guess that’s why I was still able to find him rather yummy, all that impaling notwithstanding (I’m a pacifist).

Kim: Vlad’s backstory and history are revealed to a fairly deep extent in Twice Tempted, which serves to deepen his character development.  As Kelly said his past IS brutal, but when his family history is revealed…you just get him. You understand his choices, his brutality, his darkness.  Frost gets two thumbs up from me for turning a character with such a dark depressing past into this hot, sexy, confident, yummy man.  It’s not a transformation that is an easy one to make believable.

Kelly:  Exactly!  Another challenge that Frost overcame in this installment was the believability of the conflict which is driving the characters apart.  At the end of Once Burned, all seems happy and more or less resolved, romance-wise, between Vlad and Leila, but Twice Tempted drives them apart.  With all the reader discovers about Vlad, it would be such an easy thing for Leila’s objections to their relationship to seem like just a plot device rather than an organic development of her character.  Instead of falling into that trap, however, Frost sticks with her characters, setting them on divergent but germane paths and bringing them back together in due time, when it makes sense for the characters. The result is rather stunning: a breakup story that isn’t annoying or plodding or boring.

Kim: When Kelly and I started talking about Twice Tempted and what we wanted to write, we both made the observation that even though we’re romance readers at heart and were primarily invested in the story of Vlad and Leila’s relationship, we were seriously impressed with the other aspects of the plot.  The themes of betrayal/loyalty really shine in Twice Tempted and cause the reader to question and dissect the relationships presented to us.

Kelly:  It is always nice to have a book that respects (and expects) a reader’s intelligence.  One of the most impressive things about this book is that it uses the resurrected villain trope and it isn’t lame.  I mean, think about it… you finish the last book, and you’re like, Boom! That villain’s all crispy! But… DUN DUN DUN, he isn’t.  And that should totally be lame, but it wasn’t.  It was gripping and suspenseful, even when I knew who the bad guy was.

Kim: I totally agree! So many things that typically bother me about books (trope-y plot ideas etc) WORKED here.  It’s a testament to Frost’s ability as a writer to draw a reader into her stories, take all their preconceived notions about what works for them as a reader, and have you throw it all out the window.  Her dialogue is sharp, her situations believable, and her characters….utter perfection.  Kelly and I are eagerly awaiting book three in the trilogy (still unnamed) and can’t wait for the loop which Frost will surely throw us.

Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost
Harper Collins (2012)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780062096272

Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost
Harper Collins (2013)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780062075833